A team at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has characterized a fundamental origami fold, or tessellation, that could be used as a building block for medical devices. The folding pattern, known as the Miura-ori, can be packed into a flat, compact shape and unfolded in one continuous motion.

To explore the potential of the tessellation, the engineers developed an algorithm that can create certain shapes using the Miura-ori fold, repeated with small variations. Given the specifications of the target shape, the program lays out the folds needed to create the design, which can then be laser-printed for folding.

The program takes into account several factors, including the stiffness of the folded material and the trade-off between the accuracy of the pattern and the effort associated with creating finer folds – an important characterization because, as of now, the shapes are all folded by hand.

The origami technique supports the creation of new tools, like surgical stents that can be packed flat and "pop up" into three-dimensional structures.